Persons, places and things: Receiving Eucharist


By Barb Arland-Fye

Barb Arland-Fye

Paul’s dismay at the Corinthians’ abuse of celebration of the Eucharist has fresh impact each time I read it.
Theologians say this Scripture passage is the earliest account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament (1 Cor. 11: 17-33). Paul reminds the Corinthians of Jesus’ self-giving and how he commanded his followers to do the same, “in remembrance of me.”
But the Corinthians have become so absorbed in extraneous details — where to meet, who to invite, how much bread and wine to bring — that they fail at basic hospitality. People are being treated differently because of social class; the poor are left hungry while the rich eat sumptuously; some people even get drunk. They’ve failed to see themselves as the body of Christ, all together, so what they are doing isn’t Eucharist, Paul tells them.
The Corinthians’ failings and Paul’s correction come to mind as I reflect on a class focusing on the Eucharist that I participated in last weekend as a student in the Master of Pastoral Theology Program. My classmates are deacon candidates for the Diocese of Davenport, their spouses and other individuals. In this particular class, Deacon Frank Agnoli, the diocese’s director of deacon formation, and Corinne Winter, a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, are exploring the development of Eucharistic practice and theology through the major eras of Church history. We left off this month with the Middle Ages. Next month, we’ll study the Council of Trent through the post-Vatican II era.
It amazes me that the Eucharist we celebrate today has retained the underpinnings described in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, given the dramatic societal and cultural changes that have shaped each generation’s values, beliefs and understanding of self and of God.
Early Christians celebrated the Eucharist in their homes, ideally in an intimate communion of faith, and witnessed to that faith in justice and love toward their fellow human beings. (Deacons distributed the leftover bread to the poor, the hungry, widows and orphans).
But over the centuries, as Christianity became a dominant power both politically and spiritually, the Eucharist seemingly slipped from the grasp of ordinary people. They no longer considered themselves worthy to receive the Eucharist. In the last half-century, as a result of the Second Vatican Council, we are striving to grasp a fuller understanding of how the Eucharist shapes our daily lives and our relationships with one another and with God as the body of Christ.
Professor Winter asked us what we might want to retrieve of the early Church’s celebration of the Eucharist. For me, it would be a sense of intimacy within the worshiping community. I remember eight or nine years ago when our parish celebrated Mass on Fridays during Lent in various parishioners’ homes and shared potluck supper afterward. Those experiences gave me a deep sense of communion, or koinonia. But it’s not practical to return to celebrating Mass in individual homes with 10 to 15 people. What is practical is engaging in smaller groups for Bible study, choir practice, adult faith formation and other activities and then coming together for the liturgy each weekend as a community.
Eucharist gives me strength for the journey, compels me to give thanks for this generous outpouring of love from God and to share it with others I encounter in my daily life.
“That the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ is clear; that his sacrifice should be imitated and lived out by us in lives of self-transcendence, self-sacrifice, and service should be equally clear,” says Kevin W. Irwin in his book, “Models of the Eucharist.” The Eucharist commits us to the poor, the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” tells us. That’s the message Paul conveyed to the Corinthians, and conveys to us through the ages.

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1 thought on “Persons, places and things: Receiving Eucharist

  1. I grew up in the Parish of St. Patrick’s which had only 15 families at the most. The small intimate gatherings of friends and family at Mass was very intimate and very much like the small gatherings for Mass in homes like you described in your article. Everyone sat in the same pew each week. No one ever missed Mass that I remember. And since many lived up to 25 miles away we had a pot bless dinner following mass at least once a month or if it was an early Mass it was followed by a light brunch.
    But the most intimate and profound Mass I ever attended was at a retreat weekend when I was in college 30 years ago. Late in the afternoon on Saturday of that weekend after some profound talks and fun times we celebrated Mass together in a large carpeted room behind the chapel. The only furniture was an altar. We all sat upon the floor closer together than anyone could with pews in a church. When the priest came around the altar to give communion I saw a friend my age receive the Eucharist first. He didn’t even stand up but knelt right where he was in front of the altar. As if the Spirit of God was calling, I too, knelt where I was and so did everyone in the room around me to my amazement. The priest obviously feeling the Spirit’s call went quietly to each kneeling person and offered to him the holy Body and Blood, soul and divinity of our Lord and Savior. I was so moved by the intimacy of my Lord within me and my friends about me that tears pooled in my eyes. I felt that I truly had a foretaste of heaven divine that evening.
    Afterwards, still sensing the beauty of that holy Mass I went by myself into the chapel of the retreat center. What happened at this time is profoundly changed my life and the way I see the world. The back wall of the chapel behind the altar was completely filled with windows. They were clear windows that showed the beautiful snow filled woods behind and the orangish glow of the setting sun. After the sun set I looked straight up to the wood beamed ceiling at a spot not unlike any other spot on the ceiling, and prayed a prayer I never prayed before.
    I simply said to my Savior that if everything I have been taught about him is true then I would do anything that he wanted me to do. I don’t remember saying anything else, but at that moment something warm and light came upon my head and began to flow downward and inward going all the way down to my feet. It seemed as if it lit up the small chapel I was in. But what I felt was most amazing. I felt peace, deep and meaningful, and I felt joy; a joy that was so different from the times I just felt happiness. It was deeper somehow is all I can say. That peace and joy has never left my life. All I need to do is stop and be still and I know that God is. And that with him life is good no matter how horrible it gets, and sometimes it is really horrible, isn’t it? Yet God is.

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